Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi ki aisi filmein aur banein

Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi is one of those movies that comes straight at you like a thunderbolt. It is overwhelming, strong, intelligent and is anything but run-of-the-mill. It shakes you out of your stupor and brings you face to face with an era that was lost on people of my age. The story starts in the 60s with the riots in Meerut and spans several years including the Emergency period. It is a story of a generation filled of strife, of angst, of ideals, of political upheaval and how the lives of the three main protagonists are affected by it.

The three protagonists Siddharthh (Kay Kay), Geeta (Chitrangada Singh) and Vikram (Shiny Ahuja) are classmates in Delhi. The come from different strata of society and follow different paths. Siddharth follows the Naxalite movement in Bihar despite his love for Geeta. She goes on to marry an IAS officer. In the meanwhile Vikram, the son of a Gandhian, is a small town boy with big ambitions. He has unrequited love for Geeta, and becomes a networker, a fixer and climbs up the ladder of political contacts.

Geeta breaks her wedding and goes and joins Siddharth in the villages to participate in the revolution. The political upheavals and the challenges that tests the ideals the protagonists follow make the rest of the movie. The struggles of the protagonists mirror the growing up of a generation and the loss of innocence.

The beauty of the movie lies in the script and the extremely mature handling of a topic like this. Sudhir Mishra deserves full credit for making a movie for a time lost to everyone, a movie where none of the three characters is either a hero or a villain. The characters are brilliantly portrayed by the three actors. Watch out especially for a terrific debut by Chitrangada Singh. Yes, she will remind you of Smita Patil at times with her looks. Shiny Ahuja is excellent and Kay Kay follows close by.

The use of Ghalib's shaayari at different parts of the movie in Shubha Mudgal's haunting voice is apt. I don't typically recommend a lot of movies, but I will recommend this one. It is not for the faint-hearted, but is especially for those who have a fundamental problem with the lack of original ideas in the Hindi film industry (this a bilingual fim actually). If you have seen it, please let me know what you think of it.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Yesterday Once More

... while we wait for a repeat. June 25th is a red-letter day in Indian sport history. Probably the greatest. And I don't remember any moment of it. None at all. A month shy of my fifth birthday, what else was so critical to my life on that day that clouded my memory thus? What other momentous occurrence caused me to forget the exuberance that I have waited another twenty years to feel and haven’t felt yet? Kapil’s Devils had won the World Cup on this day circa 1983. Out of the blue, up against the odds, the underdogs had defeated the rampant West Indians. I have seen highlights of the match several times since. From Srikanth’s 38 to Kapil’s great catch of Richards to Amarnath’s match winning performance, the match was the making of a cricket team. The cricket mania took off for good in India ever since. In a way, it was this match that caused the downfall of other sports in India (I mean this is a relative sense, other sports weren’t phenomenally popular, but they just vanished after this).

The closest we got was the last World Cup finals. I wanted India to win because Tendulkar deserved it. The man has practically constructed India’s team since he joined in 1989. Your Sehwags and Dravids are direct products of the Tendulkar effect. He single-handedly shepherded India to the finals breaking the record of most runs scored in a single World Cup tournament as well as becoming the highest scorer of runs in World Cups. The finals were a great chance for the resurgent Indian team to show its mettle too. Alas, the finals were lost at the end of the first over from Zaheer. I don’t remember the pleasure of India’s success at the world cup, but I remember the agony. How I wish I get to see the joy of seeing India win next year. The World Cup is next year. Why am I writing this article right now? You are right. The timing is off. This article should have been written a year back. In this day and age, its all about preparation. You can’t start six months in advance and build a winning team. That’s how Australia won the last two world cups and may win the next one. That’s why we need to fire up our one-day team which is in the pits right now.

Am I just a die-hard optimist or can the Indian team bring me yesterday once more?

Running away with the match Posted by Hello

Kapil with the World Cup Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tag along

I got tagged by a couple of people. I think a lot of people have stories similar to mine. Voracious reader eons ago, sporadic reader now, wanting to get back to normal.

Last book I bought - Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, Alchemist by Pauolo Coehlo and The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma

Last book I read
1. Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam
2. Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Books currently reading - Actually, there are a couple I am reading simultaneously
1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Total # of books I own - Close to 50 non-computer books

Books that mean(t) a lot to me - I can't think of books influencing me too much (I feel jealous that it happens to others), so I am just going to list some favorite books that come to my mind
1. The Hardy Boys & Famous Five series: I read 30 of them in 30 days in one of my summer vacations when the circulating library would allow me one a day.
2. The adventures of Huckleberry Finn : I won two competitions in a day at school and gave the same prize. Gave one to my cousin Vyom and kept one to myself. The book rocks, but its what I did with it that made it special
3. Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister : The best satire written. Period.
4. Madhushala : This explained why Amitabh had special genes
5. Freedom at Midnight : Thrilling read for anyone interested in the period related to India's independence
6. Catch22 : Because life is like that
7. Clockwork Orange : Loved it as soon as I read it
8. Lord of the flies : Brilliant basis for the story and execution

The following bloggers have been tagged

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The choice is yours

 Posted by Hello
This is a real road sign, en route to Mt. Rainier, 100 miles from Seattle. Paradise is the name of a visitor centre on Mt. Rainier. This also represents my best chance of winning a smart photo contest :-)

Friday, June 10, 2005


I have been staying away from India for the past five years. Distance provides a rare opportunity: objectivity. The opportunity to view your old surroundings with new eyes, an opportunity to feel shock & awe, amusement & enlightenment, epiphany & redemption. It would even make Heisenberg uncertain about his Uncertainty Principle. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and came away richer.

There’s road travel in India and then there’s the rest of the world. My entire stay in India before going abroad was punctuated with padayatras, BEST (bus service in Bombay), trains, auto-rickshaws and the rare taxi ride. My parents didn’t have a car, I never felt the need to drive one, and consequently, I never quite understood and absorbed the mechanics of driving in India. Now, I am a convert, a compulsive driver who finds great comfort inside his Volkswagen Passat. In fact, this trip I was almost inclined to sit behind the steering wheel of any brave owner’s car in India to exercise the license that I got by learning the Maruti 800 at the Chauhan Motor Driving School. Three years of driving have given me a sixth sense I didn’t know existed.

Suddenly, I felt myself being aware of the way people drove in India. The maneuvers, the skills, the blasé attitude, the space utilization, the common sense, the lack of it. Expressways notwithstanding, the real roads in India crawl at a maximum speed of 20 km/hr, it is difficult to decide whether the brake is abused more than the clutch and lanes are a figment of someone alien’s imagination. Don’t get me wrong. I think this is what makes us unique. Our non-adherence to conformity, with a trace of respect. After all, people do still follow green/red lights (this is of course Mumbai, I can write a book on how people drive in Surat). Why fit one car in a lane, when two rickshaws, a bike, a bicycle and a beggar can fit in? Why restrict our imagination and ability when we can overtake from both left and right?

The greatest epiphany I had in this India trip was the Great Indian Horn. It is a phenomenon that hasn’t been given due attention. All these years I felt that people were just honking away in frustration at all times. How wrong was I? Of course, motorists honk away at signals anyway to fill up the time till the green light comes. Oh, the insecurity of it all. Sound fills up the time and space around the four corners. However, I am digressing. The horn serves a grander purpose. Let me explain.

People don’t follow lanes in India. You can enter on the left and exit on the right. You can glide gracefully from one corner to another like a 60’s Hindi film heroine. Of course, there is no such thing as looking into side and rear view mirrors. The entire side view is a blind spot, so that is not a concern either. The future holds surprises and so does the guy in front of you who may suddenly decide that he has rightist leanings and prefers the right edge of the road. How in that event can you let him know that you are going faster than him and will go past him in the next three seconds. Do you rely on him to check on you before he turns his steering wheel? Would you trust your life on a person who may be watching London, talking Tokyo? Of course not. This is India. It is obvious that you won’t survive by your wits alone. That is why you have the all-powerful weapon: the horn. Honk it hard and continuous and you will catch the driver’s attention. You have announced war. You have announced intent to overtake and he must bow before you. You are in the right lane, and it shall remain unoccupied for you to pass through like a victorious soldier. The horn, my friends is the shankha of Arjun, it is what Gimli blew in Helm’s deep, it is the trumpet with the sweetest of voices.

There’s more to the horn than meets the ear. Over the years, the horn has evolved so much. From the plain old monotone to the sounds of backing up (‘Jai Jagadeesh Hare’, ‘This car is backing up’) to the latest remixes that I came across, there is a while spectrum of melodies(?) one gets to hear on the road.

On a side note, I was paying attention to the labels people on the back of their rickshaws and taxis. Messages, kids’ names, source location of the vehicle are there for you to read. Horn*OK*Please, Amit and Naina, Jay Mata Di, Andheri, Ghatkopar etc. The corniest that I came across though was “Agar aap hamare aur kareeb aaenge to hum aapki puppy le lenge”. Eeeesh!!

One last point. The best drivers are the ones who honk the least. Try and observe that and let me know what you feel. Ok? Please?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


The Jat lag has gone down a bit (oh sorry, am I offending someone?) and I can actually count ten fingers on someone else's hand. I am back! I got quite a few comments from people looking forward to reading about my India trip experience. That left me confused. Are people interested in my India trip or my India trip? How do I compose this post? How do I meet the burden of expectation? Ambivalent or AmbyValley? Safe or Saif? India or ExpectNation?

I am going to devote a few posts to my recent India trip, but here are bulleted highlights of some things that struck me

1. Money money money rules India
… like never before. Socialism has been buried for good by glitzy malls and cell phone owning vegetable owners. We are open for business, competition and the ilk. Middle class is moving up, upper class has more places to spend money, and the poor will feel the pinch like never before
2. Ka-Mall hi Ka-Mall hai
I visited the InOrbit mall in Bombay besides CitiMall and Infiniti close to my place. Clean spaces, working escalators, suited-buited guards, rich Gujarati house-wives, Ritu Kumar boutiques, food courts serving Rs. 40 popcorns, multiplexes, supermarkets, 2 for 1 deals … this place has everything. It was almost like being in the US except for the excess rush and lots of Indians. Of course, a ton of people were treating it like a tourist trip. Enjoy the air conditioning and do window shopping.
3. Rs.1000 is the new Rs.100
How often have you heard your father give you the ‘in my times, it used to cost 25 paise’ story? I think it is happening to me too. Everything is so costly now that a rupee is now redundant. I used to joke about what I would do with a 5 lakh salary in India now. I think to maintain a middle-class lifestyle with an upward drift, that kind of money would be necessary. A night a the movies, restaurant and café with your family will cost you a cool 1000.
4. Angrez chale gaye Andheri mein theatre chodd gaye
English movies meant a trip to the town for me. Andheri to Churchgate by compulsion and local train. The change brought a smile to my face. I saw Star Wars at a theatre 15 minutes walking distance from my house. Andheri was firmly the centre of Bombay for me. Now it is set in stone. I saw Star Wars and B&B in India with no other decent release and very little time on my hands. The theatres were Fun Republic and Fame Adlabs respectively. I was also mildly amused at them playing the national anthem before the movies. Were they playing it for this Non Reliable Indian?
5. From long ration lines to low necklines
Controversial topic, but I’ll broach it anyway. The necklines are plunging and the hemlines are rising. Does that explain the high temperatures in Bombay? Of course, my trip was largely limited to Lokhandwala which was always known for its hep-cat (that’s an expression I heard a few times on the trip) crowd. A prospect that would have been salivating a few years ago just ended up being mildly amusing for me given my years of stay in the US. I have no comments to make on it save the observation that there is a difference. Good, bad, radical, expected … that is a whole new debate.
6. Ek Mocha Aur De Do Thakur
This is a reuse of a blog title I had used a while back. While I visited the usual Baristas and CCD (Café Coffee Day for the uninitiated), the highlight was a trip to Café Mocha in Juhu. Sipping a Rs.200 milkshake with hookahs around me and the kids ‘chilling out’ made me uncomfortable at times. A gentle reminder that I never belonged here and the dollar conversion notwithstanding, I will never be at ease there. That might change over time, but somehow, this is a part of Bombay I was never familiar with.
7. Kyonki DD hi kabhi TV tha
I spent a lot of time surfing channels 1 through 97 on my parents’ archaic TV. Saw one episode each of Kyonki …, Jassi …, Koffee .., and a couple other serials and figured everything about the story. I cannot understand the Ekta Kapoor effect, but hey, I am just an NRI who doesn’t see too much Indian TV. Saw some Gujarati movies where the hero was the same (Naresh Kanodia), the heroine was the same (Snehalata) , the guy who played the father was the same, the comedian was the same and the stories too were almost similar. They were a riot. Of course, hated the remixes to the core, loved some of the new ads that have come and realized that news channels in India are almost as vacuous as those in the US
8. Well, what did I do this time?
Rock Beach, Vada Pav, Anupam samosas, road-side juices et al. I did get a chance to check it all out. The train journey to VT was fun and the day spent in town (Planet M to Gateway, Samrat to roadside DVD purchase) was great. Of course, since I was attending a couple of weddings, my food cravings were taken care off. Lots of lovely Indian food, no dishes to wash, no clothes to clean, no house to vacuum, what more does one need in life? Spent some quality time with my parents, enjoyed staying indoors in the oppressive heat and loved reading the Times of India print edition while my mom made coffee in the morning for me. Picked up Maximum City and some cheap print books at the traffic signal.
9. Regrets
Could not meet any friends other than Sushil (everyone was busy and couldn’t spare time on the one day that I had reserved for them ), could not go to my school or college, could not travel by BEST, could not spend more time with my grandfather, could not go to Surat to play cricket at my cousin’s reception (long story, fodder for another post), could not see my childhood photographs. However, regrets are good. They leave a reason for going back.

That about bulletizes my trip. I skimmed the surface, and the coffee beneath was hot. Bitter, sweet, pulsating. The India I know but can’t completely relate to. The India that I need to introduce myself to each time I go back. ExpectNation met my expectations to a large extent.

On my way back from Churchgate, I was trying to get down at Bandra station. Rendered immobile by the rush, I was trapped in between, limbs locked in the pack. As the station came, I disembarked, helped along by a push from the back, just in time to avoid the crowd that poured in. I had finally arrived in India.